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Columnist
Utah power forward Boozer a realistic target
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 5/18/2009 12:11 AM

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The Boston-Orlando series provided sort of an unofficial progress report for the Bulls, a referendum on the quality of the Celtics without Kevin Garnett.

The longer the series lasted, the more valid the argument that the Bulls in their current state might be capable of challenging for a top-four seed in the East next season.

Another way to look at it is the Bulls could be one successful move from becoming LeBron James' opponent in next year's conference finals.

There was no real mystery to the Bulls last season. Their strengths are team speed and a variety of offensive weapons. The weaknesses are defense and lack of an inside scorer.

The availability of power forwards Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire has been discussed in recent months, but a more realistic target for the Bulls this summer might be Utah's Carlos Boozer.

The 6-foot-9 power forward plans to opt out of his contract and become a free agent, which presents the Jazz with an interesting dilemma.

Boozer has been an all-star-caliber power forward when healthy. But he has missed at least 31 games in three of his five seasons in Utah.

While Boozer was shelved this season with a knee injury, third-year pro Paul Millsap played well in his place (16.0 points, 10.3 rebounds as a starter). So does Utah pay big money to keep a player when they already have a solid replacement on hand? That's a tough call.

Point guard Deron Williams is locked up long term, but Utah could use a makeover and an infusion of defense. Would a sign-and-trade sending Boozer to the Bulls for Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng make sense?

To even out the salaries, Utah might include swingman C.J. Miles and/or point guard Ronnie Price, who could be quality backups for the Bulls.

There is no easy solution for the Jazz, which slumped to the No. 8 seed in the West with an injury-marred season.

Center Mehmet Okur also can be a free agent, and his weak interior defense might be the biggest shortcoming on that team. Utah also is stuck with Andrei Kirilenko for two more years at a combined $34 million.

In theory, Hinrich would improve the Jazz perimeter defense and Deng could be a nice jump-shooting target for Williams' passes. The Bulls would have a low-post scoring threat for the first time in a few years and could start playing Tyrus Thomas at small forward with John Salmons splitting time at the two wing positions.

Obviously, this idea requires the Bulls to re-sign Ben Gordon and pay the luxury tax for one season. The Bulls will let Gordon test the market as a free agent this summer. But if they want to bring him back, there is no reason they should be outbid.

Here is a rundown of some other notable players who could be in play this summer.

Chris Bosh: The Raptors aren't expected to deal the all-star forward this summer and may adopt a policy of letting him become a free agent. If Bosh leaves in 2010, Toronto would at least have some cap room to try to spend on other players.

Of course, this scenario is an argument for the Bulls creating some cap room next summer. They should be able to make a good sales pitch to Bosh, with an opportunity to join a competitive team and still be the top scorer.

That's assuming the Bulls stay competitive next season. The easiest way for the Bulls to create cap room in 2010 would be to not re-sign Gordon.

Amare Stoudemire: No telling what might happen here, but the Suns do need payroll relief and Stoudemire also is set to be a free agent next year.

Like I've said before, the cost uncertainty makes this talented forward a huge risk. Stoudemire at $14 million a year would be a nice addition. At $20 million a year, no thanks.

Lamar Odom: If the Lakers don't mind paying the luxury tax, Odom probably will stay put. If they do mind, Detroit or Memphis could make a run in free agency.

The Bulls are a longshot destination, but the Lakers could use a point guard and there was informed gossip during the "Kobe to the Bulls" mania of 2007 that Bryant is a fan of Hinrich.

Shaquille O'Neal: Phoenix probably will try to move his $20 million salary, and he still has something to contribute. But a slow-moving center wouldn't be a good fit on a team like the Bulls that needs to run.

I know what you're thinking and, no, Brad Miller isn't a great fit either on the Bulls, but at least he has a variety of offensive skills and makes nearly half of O'Neal's hefty salary.